Finding My Way Back To Journalling After Destroying A Lifetime Of Journals…

There used to be a joke in our family. I told the kids that I would leave my journals to my eldest, my daughter Jenny, and the other kids could have access to them through her. I would leave my wedding rings to Rachel, my middle child, and Aaron would get my huge old roll top desk. Jenny once said to Rachel, “I’ll trade you the journals for the rings.” Inotherwords, inheriting my lifetime of journals — nearly 400 when they were destroyed in 2010 — was more than a bit daunting. And as it was poor Aaron had to help move that behemoth desk so many times after the marriage ended that he is kind of over it. I did not plan well. And the thing is I woke up one day and realized it was no joke. Those journals would be nothing but a burden, and even though I wrote like I breathed, and recorded every time my kids moved or breathed — I was always carrying my current journal with me, chronicling their childhoods in meticulous fashion, there was more than lost family history after those journals were gone. There was a childhood of abuse worked out in therapy for decades, there was angst, there were tears, there was so much more than any child should ever have to read, and I didn’t want them to read the journals and remember me that way, as a broken thing, abused, depressed, anxious, bipolar, and all the rest. I want them to remember good times, and love, lots of love. The journals had to go.

But here’s the thing, I realized, after they were gone, how centered I had been on keeping those journals for my children. I wanted them to have a detailed history of their childhoods, all of the gifts they got for all of their birthdays and Christmases, all of the places we went and the things that we did, their handprints, their little drawings, so much was recorded and cherished, but like I had recorded their lives I had also recorded my own. In detail. And there was just a whole lot I never wanted them to see or know. Such dark periods. No child should read that. They knew I was depressed, they didn’t have to read about the times that I was suicidal. And there was more, too much more. And it was all so intricately woven together, a very detailed story of a woman who struggled terribly while loving and cherishing her children more than anything, that there was no way to separate it out, it was all of a piece. But when those journals went so did the woman who wrote them. I kept them for my children, now I knew I could never journal again in the way that I had, and if I didn’t for them, if I was not writing to leave some kind of legacy, why would I do it at all? I couldn’t think of a single reason. Nearly 40 years of teaching journal classes and hundreds of volumes of journals behind me and suddenly I couldn’t write a single word. And when I wasn’t keeping a journal my other writing was affected too. I may not have sold a book but I didn’t have trouble writing them. Now the foundation of my writing process was gone. I have been simply lost without it.

From time to time I have felt, as I was going through another round of therapy, that it would be cathartic to keep a journal. Or when I started a new art project I thought about keeping an art journal. I have spent too much money buying all different types of blank books, sketchbooks, and notebooks and would start keeping a journal again only to fall away after a short time. The path is littered with half filled journals and it haunted me. I felt that it was an important thing to do but I didn’t know how. In days gone by I hadn’t really lived through a thing until I had written about it, then it became real. Now my life is being lived and is slipping away and disappearing, as fast as I live it it is gone. It is as though I don’t exist. I am invisible. When I die there will be no trace of me. That frightens me, and makes me very, very sad.

One day I was in the Dollar Store. I am always drawn to the aisle with pens and notebooks, a lifetime habit. And I needed notebooks for a course I was taking. I’ve always loved Composition notebooks so felt I would buy a couple of those, but when I found them they were not the usual type. These said “Composition Book” on the cover but the covers were brightly colored poly material in many colors. I picked one up. They were made in India and the paper inside had a soft feel to it, not a slick, cheap paper feel. And they were only $1 each. I bought 5 bright pink ones and couldn’t wait to get home and write in one. I started, as soon as I got home, working on my course material and filling pages and pages, loving the way it felt to write in this bright, beautiful $1 book. My current favorite pens, Pilot Razor Point, Extra Fine, felt like they were writing on velvet. I swooned. I wanted to keep writing just for the delicious feel of the pen on this paper. And then I looked at the little stack of notebooks I had just purchased. Would it be possible, I wondered, could I possibly… I stared at them but didn’t make a move. And I have stared at them for weeks, and more and more often I have wanted to pick one up and just start writing, anything at all, just to feel the tip of the pen glide across the vast expanse of the notebook page, just to write. I began to want to keep a journal again but I was scared. What would I write? And why? Who would care?

And then I realized that it didn’t matter if anyone cared, I would not be writing to leave a legacy for anyone, I would be writing just for me. I would be writing because  I love the feel of pen on paper and because it is a time of great change in my life, finding my way, at near 63, into this last stage of my life, no matter how long that might be. And I have a book I want to write, there are things I want to say. It’s time.

I said 2 days ago that it was time. I picked a Composition Book up from the pile and looked at it closely. I felt the smooth pages. I smelled them. I clutched that bright pink notebook to my heart and it all came back, the joy of it all, why I had always loved keeping a journal, how it made me feel after I had lived my way through something and then written about it, making it all real, how I would come to the journal lost and find my way in its pages. I thought and felt so much, but I couldn’t make myself write. It is sitting here beside me now. I wanted to write in it before I wrote this blog post, but then, like finding the answers I needed in the journal I thought that if I wrote the blog post maybe I would find my way into the journal. I’m counting on that. I plan to publish this post and then open up this pink notebook that is sitting here beside me and if I have to write gibberish for 3 pages I will write gibberish. I have to get the courage to begin.

I think I see that pink cover quivering a little. I think my pen is humming beside me like a flute waiting to be played. My life is slipping away unrecorded and I want to weave the days and hours into these pages, once again knowing that I exist because a book full of writing sitting beside me says it’s so. I think I’m ready to do this, and in this moment I grieve the loss of those hundreds of volumes that held so much, but it is time to begin anew, I still have life left to live, it’s not too late. I will begin here. I opened the notebook, uncapped my pen and wrote, Thursday * 4/13/17 * In the studio… I have left the pen uncapped. I shall continue on.

If you enjoy this blog a donation would be deeply appreciated to help me continue to bring “Maitri’s Heart” to you. Thank you, and many deep blessings to one and all…

Comments

  1. Paula Brown says:

    Believe me, Maitri, journal or no journal you will be remembered. So many of us have been encouraged and cheered by your friendship. Oh yes you will be remembered and each of us will have a special memory. You will live on in our Hearts. Love you Gal…. ❤????

    • Thank you so much sweet Paula. You are so kind. It is nice to be remembered, to know that you are in someone’s heart. And you are in mine dearheart. You will always remain so.

      Blessings and Love to you, now and always…

      Maitri

  2. I’m intrigued by your wanting to return to journaling and so understand how hard it is to return after such wrenching loss. But what you offer in your blog posts is an extraordinarily generous journal, with an appreciative audience.

    I have shelves of journals and would be sad to lose them. On the other hand, on the occasions when I mine them for stories, I sometimes wince and do a bit of shredding.

    I gradually traded journal writing for long letters with a dear friend. That friendship stumbled, but by then I had masses of letters and story ideas. In recent years I haven’t journaled at all, though I keep thinking of getting back to it. With no children to leave them to, I find it hard to get motivated. I do still keep notebooks and fill them with project ideas. Perhaps I’ll just be content with that.

    • Dear Cathryn,

      I read, and reread your comment here, and I wondered, for a moment, if the blog had taken the place of the journal, and if I really needed to journal at all. Perhaps they will become just that, writer’s notebooks, a place to gather my thoughts for my work. And this would make sense. But what I realized is that the blog posts have more of a sense of a finished piece of writing and the journals are a free for all, no worries about punctuation or grammar, just flying across the pages and letting it all go. It is like Virginia Woolf said when she talked about the stray matters that she wouldn’t get to if she didn’t keep her diary, “galloping along” but which become “the diamonds of the dustheap.” Without the journal I am somehow more on the surface on the blog and don’t always get to the deepest matters. I don’t want to lose them. I may not have Woolf’s diamonds, but I know I am missing something, and I want to find out just what that is…

      Good to be prodded to think about this. Thank you sweet Cathryn, this has been good. And so much love to you dear one, and a hug too…

      Maitri

  3. how synchronistic. for a recent birthday, about five people gave me or mailed me fresh journals. i can’t stop buying beautiful ones either. And a girlfriend who is moving back to Germany and downsizing, just gave me three more!!! I do journal, but my journals are also like scrapbooks — besides narrative entries, or clusters of Intentions, or To-Do’s,there are haiku poems, little collages, newspaper stories that touch me, postcards from friends, longer “out the window” poems, with the occasional catch up (touching base.) I too have a humongous journal cupboard with hundreds of volumes. Luckily for me I have an archive that will one day receive this living testimony/herstory of a teenage girl, a young adult, a radical, a healer, a teacher, a mother and wife, a gardener and dancer, someone who lived life laughed and cried – all of me. At the same time, alot of my writing now goes into stories and poems, and e-mails, and i thus have less of a need to journal (having a form of creative expression – like your wonderful blogs, maitri, which are indeed a form of journaling – ) at the same time, i KNOW in my heart of hearts that there is NOTHING like tuning in to my self, letting myself write about who i am, what i feel, what is happening, what is hurting, what i’m jubiliant about.
    And later, when i read my old journals, or even recent ones, i remember, again, why I journal. It is to listen to my soul. It is to express my soul. It is to cherish my essential being, over time, through history, personal and universal. So, yes, Maitri, return, return again. Just do not discount all the other forms of writing and art you also do. It is all an expression of your deepest self, in all her many facets. Sending hugs and a pen that glides rapturously, through the help of the muse, over that velvety paper!!!

    xo
    ka

    • Oh my darling Ka, what an inspiration you have always been to me. I would love to read all of your journals, I can’t imagine what jewels they are. Your writing has always been so beautiful and so powerful and now you are gathering your writings into books, and continuing to do all kinds of writing. And it is as I said to Cathryn after her comment, yes, the blogs are a kind of journalling, but don’t quite get to the marrow, to Virginia Woolf’s “diamonds of the dustheap,” those little thoughts that come up when you are writing fast and furious and without censoring anything and amidst the rubble there are bright gems that you find that you wouldn’t have found any other way. I want to find them again and see where that takes me. In a way the blog has robbed me of journalling and even my other writing. Hard to concentrate on a book when so much of your writing energy goes into blog posts. I am going to have to find my way with this, see what comes up. It will definitely be a journey.

      I love you sweet Ka, so much. Take care dear sister…

      M.

  4. Susan Phelps says:

    Maitri, it’s as if you described the revelation I had about writing what I was feeling, thinking, etc., in a journal, except that I found myself censoring what I could have written because “when I’m gone, and my nieces might find them, read them, & what would they think of me?! Well, my revelation was that they would read them, understand me better than they already do, & love m

    • Susan,

      What we choose to do with our journals is as individual and private a decision as the keeping of the journal itself. You find something that feels right to you and you go with that. I’m glad you’ve found a solution you are at peace with.

      Blessings to you honey…

      Maitri

  5. back again. my friend does morning pages (3). it’s a ritual. and for a while tom and i were writing every night (separately) in our happiness journal (something or some things that made us happy). maybe you could set a time, like 4 pm, as a ritual journal time (as well as spontaneous other times). even set a timer for half an hour, and WRITE. there’s nothing like a ritual — or what i call “office hours” when I have to work on something important, to keep to. keep in touch about this, dear sister.

    • Katya,

      I have tried to do *Morning Pages* but it never just set right with me. I was journalling my own way and teaching my own way for too long I guess to slip into Julia Cameron’s as much as I admire her work (and I love her idea of “Artist’s Dates.”). But I love your idea about setting a time and even setting a timer. I have a darling little cow timer I have used for other projects. It’s a wonderful idea to use it for journalling. And I love that you and Tom kept Happiness journals. I think that’s so important. I need to practice more “Gratitude” to keep from slipping into depression. I truly have so much to be grateful for.

      Thanks for coming back and writing in again. I love that, and yes, let’s do keep in touch about this honey…

      Love,

      M.

  6. Journals you used to validate your life the good and the bad …. but mainly the bad if you are like me… and with the fire try to think of it as a cleansing .. cleansing the bad and the good that the universe said hello Maitri it is time I took this that you have carried for so long and you can now feel free to start the next part of your life …

    Pink the color of your heart chakra .. the journal pink…. so perfect for you….
    love you

    • Julia, thank you for sharing those thoughts honey. And yes, I love the pink, it makes me feel happy inside… 🙂

  7. Just recently, I found two prayer journals that kept 20 years ago. It was good to see how prayer was answered or still waiting on answer. Yep, sometimes the Lord takes His time while He sets everything in motion. I, too, love pens and paper and journals, whooooh!

    • Marge, what treasures to find! I know that must have meant a lot to you. And oh yes, pens, and paper, and journals! Woohoo! 😀

      Sending you a big hug honey…

      Maitri

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